The Introduction explores the basic outlines of various feminist legal theories, including liberal feminism, radical feminism, relational feminism, socialist feminism, critical race feminism and postmodern feminism. It takes up some of the major conflicts between these contrasting views as well as points of overlap and explores the ways in which each has influenced legal reform movements as well been influenced by them.
This chapter argues that feminist legal scholars should both construct and criticize legal ideals by first articulating a conception of humanity, or the human being, that law ought to serve. That conception, in turn, should center not only individual but also relational needs, vulnerabilities and potentialities. Women have done more of the world’s caregiving than have men, are disproportionately subject to the risk of sexual assault and experience the risks of both wanted and unwelcome pregnancy and maternity. Law should protect against these relational risks, and its ideals should reflect these differentiating experiences and modes of being. Currently it does neither. An over-reliance by feminists and others on formal equality and an ‘ethic of consent’ by which all consensual transactions, including sexual and reproductive transactions, are treated as moral by virtue of their consensuality has led to reliance on a conception of humanity that continues to disserve – because it does not recognize – women’s lives and interests.